Sometime back in June 2019, I learned about Eberlestock on Twitter from a post that ended up on my timeline. I gave them a follow and asked what product the original poster would recommend for an average Joe like me. I didn’t get a response from the original poster, but Eberlestock responded and they suggested the Gunslinger. In hindsight, I should have paid heed. Alas, I did not. I perused their products for the next few months and finally decided to pick up a Skycrane II which I gifted to myself prior to the start of the hunting season that year. I figured it would make a good hunting pack and the Multicam option tickled my inner Tactical Timmy. I can’t explain why I haven’t written about this pack until now, but there is that good ole saying, “late is better than never.”
The Skycrane II has served me during hunting season very well over the years. One of the things that I’ve enjoyed the most about it is that it’s not really one pack, but rather three modular packs that work together. It’s not without its downsides. The biggest downside is arguably one of its strengths, which is it is a really large pack when it’s all put together. More often than not, it has played the role of my weekend hunting trip pack which includes everything I need for the entire weekend plus an extra day. Again, this is a strength that some will see as a positive feature, as I once did. However, I’ve never lugged the entire pack for a three or four day weekend because when it’s fully loaded it’s a heavy, and I mean really heavy, pack. It typically made it from my home to the truck and then from the truck to base camp where it was broken down into the three smaller packs that played specific rolls on the hunting trips. At the end of each trip, the three packs were combined and made their way from base camp to the truck and from the truck to home.
I suppose the best way to look at the Skycrane II is to look at the individual packs first. Then consider how they come together. Once again, I think it’s a fantastic pack, but it’s a heavy boy that requires one to be reasonably fit and conditioned to lug the entire thing around when it is filled to the brim.
G1 Little Brother
The core, in my opinion, of the Skycrane II is the G1 Little Brother pack. This isn’t quite accurate since the J79 base frame is what enables the Skycrane II configuration to happen, but the Little Brother pack was the one that got the most use every single day of every hunting trip this pack has been to. It is the part of the Skycrane II that comes with me from base camp to the blind. I stuff it with what I consider to be my essentials for hunting. This includes, but isn’t limited to, legal documents, weapon system components, a field knife, hydration for the day, the binocular pack (more on that some other time), eye/ear protection, first aid, calories for the day, a radio, spare batteries, and other essential items.
On its own, it’s a solid three day pack. The main compartment can be top or front loaded and has a few built in organization features like two hydration bladder sleeves, a mesh separator, a few smaller pockets around the base of the compartment, and some MOLLE webbing along the sides and the front access flap. The mesh separator is intended to be an internal PRC-117 radio rack, but given I don’t have one of those or even know that it is, I used it as an organization flat to keep the things that I wanted to remain accessible from the top from shifting around. The internal MOLLE webbing seems like a good idea to introduce additional organization, but I never made use of it. I also struggled with the hydration bladder sleeves. The marketing material suggests they will each hold a specific three liter Source Tactical bladder, but even this one was hard to squeeze into the sleeve. The sleeves work, but I found myself futzing around with them and with bladders to find a configuration that worked for me which ended up being with a CamelBack Antidote Long 3L Reservoir.
The front flap features a patch panel and deep outside pocket. I used this pocket to keep maps and Rite in the Rain notebook cover where I kept a notebook along with my hunting license, tags, and writing implements. On each side of the pack are compression straps and a small side pocket that is tensioned by a bungee cord. The side pockets function well as bottle or container pockets. More often than not I used one pocket to hold a Leupold LTO Tracker and the other to hold snacks. The top lid of the pack has an additional zippered compartment that is ample enough to hold many items that one may need relatively quick access to, but doesn’t offer much in terms of organization. I mostly used the top compartment to keep gloves, a beanie, or extra hand warmers. The outside of the pack is covered in MOLLE webbing that I never made use of myself.
The standard shoulder harness used by the Little Brother pack is superbly comfortable and highly adjustable. There is plenty of padding that increases comfort while also letting one’s back breathe while carrying the pack. The lumbar support pad on the pack also accepts the removable hip belt from the J79 base frame for additional support. I never made use of that feature, but it’s one that I considered using on occasions where I needed to cover more terrain on foot to reach a hunting blind.
The build quality on the pack is excellent. The only thing I found missing from this pack is a mechanism to attach game bags to it which would come in handy for those “hike in and pack out” hunts. It’s not a deal breaker for me though since there are other pack out solutions and hunting isn’t something that this pack is specifically designed for. Nevertheless, it still works as a hunting pack. Or at least, it has worked well for me as a hunting pack.
The LP1 MultiLid is a pack mountable fanny pack. It is intended to work as a hip or shoulder worn bag with a large main compartment that can function as a “go bag”. It includes a sunglasses compartment that also includes a small start with a clip that can be used to secure something small and important like one’s car keys. The pack also features a hydration sleeve that should be able to accept a 3L hydration bladder which I have yet to attempt. The waist or shoulder strap can be tucked away in a sleeve on the underside of the bag when the bag is attached to another pack via the MOLLE webbing and included straps.
In theory, this small pack, which is configured as a top compartment on the J79 base frame from the factory, can be moved between the Little Brother and the J79 base frame or used on its own. I never used it in another manner beyond its original configuration and always served as my hygiene kit and was filled with things like a hair brush, shampoo, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, Wet Ones, and similar items. This made sense to me since the base frame remained with camp.
Like the Little Brother, the quality of materials and stitching is excellent. The only downside, which is subjective, is that the main compartment provided no organizational features.
J79 Base Frame
Unlike the Little Brother and the MultiLid, the J79 Base Frame is not available for purchase by itself. However, the J51 Warhammer is similar, but not identical, and can be expanded with the Little Brother and the MultiLid.
By itself, the J79 Base Frame is large enough to be a three day pack. It was two saddle pack style main compartments that are joined together in the center with a zipper. The saddle packs are only accessible from the top, but also include a bottom third external pouch that is tensioned by a bungee cord. I usually stuff each of the saddle packs with a change of clothes. Both of the saddle packs are covered in MOLLE webbing.
Unzipping the main compartments allows them to open up like wings. This reveals four additional internal pouches. I tend to stuff these with emergency calories and to organize other larger tools that may be useful at the base camp. In addition to the exposed additional compartments, we also find a large MOLLE panel that can be used to attach a rifle scabbard or other items like the Esee Junglas II pictured above.
Like the Little Brother, the base frame uses a standard harness. Unlike the Little Brother, it includes a padded hip belt that provides additional MOLLE webbing. I’ve outfitted the hip belt with several items including a Leatherman OHT, an Esee 4, an admin pouch, and trauma kit.
Given the base frame is designed to be load bearing, it can be used to carry game bags for hike in and pack out types of hunts. Which makes the J79 base frame a better option than the G1 Little Brother for that scenario. Having this versatility in a pack is a good thing in my opinion.
J79 Skycrane II
The Skycrane II is the entire load bearing system composed of the three main packs assembled together. The assembly is accomplished by opening up the base frame and zipping the Little Brother into it. Then the MultiLid is added to the top of the base frame.
When configured this way, everything but the internal base frame pouches and anything attached to the sides or in the side pouches of the Little Brother remain easily accessible. To be honest, one thing that has bothered me about this set up for a hunting pack is that I’ve ended up doubling up on a few items on or in both the base frame and the Little Brother so that they remain accessible when the system is configured into the Skycrane or when disassembled into separate packs. Things that I commonly double up on are trauma kits, multitools, small to medium sized knives and similar items. Granted this is a poor planning (and arguably) a laziness problem that results in the fully assembled Skycrane ending up heavier than it needs to be. I mention this only because it’s been a tough habit for me to break and a tendency that I find many folks have when having access to a pack this size. Think about it, it’s two 3-day packs plus a go bag combined. It really is a freaking big pack.
Overall, it’s a fantastic and very well built pack. It’s incredibly versatile and I have no doubt it will continue to serve me well for years to come. It is big and as such it can get incredibly heavy, but between the harness, the padded hip belt, and aluminum stays the load can be managed comfortably assuming the harness has been fitted properly. The versatility of being able to go from a behemoth pack to three individual packs that offer individual strengths can’t be understated. That said and in my very subjective opinion, the Skycrane II does have a general purpose vibe to it. Kind of like a Swiss Army knife. It’s going to be very useful for many different applications, but it’s not going to excel at any particular application. At least, not excel as well as a pack that is specifically designed for that particular application. That’s not a bad thing, but it is something that’s led me to consider trying out another Eberlestock pack that has been designed specifically with hunting in mind. And that’s an itch that I will be scratching soon enough.